Texas Emergency Management ONLINE 2014 Vol. 61 No. 10

Harris County’s New Emergency Operations Center Equipped to Serve One of the Fastest Growing Regions in the Country

HCOHSEM

Houston, TX) – Harris County, one of the fastest growing counties in the nation has a new, state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to help local governments and emergency responders serve and protect residents during disasters and emergencies.  Harris County is the third largest county in the United States and the largest in Texas.  It has 34 cities and more than 4.4 million residents.

The Harris County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management (HCOHSEM) proudly unveiled its new EOC at the start of this year’s hurricane season.  The new facility is larger and better equipped to monitor incidents and mitigate problems during regional emergencies.
The new EOC, located at the Houston TranStar center, is part of the facility’s expansion project that has added 26,000 square feet of new floor space and renovated 11,000 square feet of existing space. The building is structurally designed to to withstand winds of up to 150 miles per hour; it has three backup generators and a 30,000-gallon water filtration system.

HCOHSEM

"Whether it is a fire, a flood or a hurricane, we now have this new state-of-the-art facility where emergency responders can gather to coordinate efforts and make decisions that are in the best interest of our residents," said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

The new EOC has 98 workstations equipped with electric adjustable-height desks, new monitors and computers, and new telephone systems.  Wall-to-wall LED displays allow emergency officials to monitor news, hurricane tracking maps and satellite feeds. A new and larger situation room helps manage briefings.

During an activation, the new EOC allows the county to coordinate with regional, state, and national operations centers through a host of systems and back-up systems, including the Internet, video-teleconferencing, satellite phones, 800 MHZ radio, short-wave/amateur radio, and local, state, and national warning/notification systems.

“The expansion was conceived from lessons learned during Hurricane Rita, but it was Hurricane Ike, that proved we did not have enough space to house the hundreds of people that it takes for response and recovery operations during a major disaster,” said TranStar Director Jack Whaley.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, the EOC was activated for nine days, with more than 100 people working there and only 24 available workstations.  Hurricane Ike brought more than 500 responders, representing over 100 agencies, to TranStar.

HCOHSEM

HCOHSEM has called TranStar home since 1996, when TranStar opened as the first center in the nation to combine transportation and emergency management services.  TranStar provides travel time updates, incident warnings, and up-to-the-minute traffic and weather information for the greater Houston/Harris County area.   Its command center has access to more than 900 traffic cameras for monitoring daily traffic and emergency evacuations.

The facility as a whole has gained 3,360 square feet of conference space that can be converted to support disaster responders when needed.  This space is also available for training, exercises and drills.  Other amenities include additional elevators, bathrooms, showers and sleeping quarters.

Known to the media as the region’s public information hub during emergencies, HCOHSEM will continue to maintain a ready-state Joint Information Center at TranStar.

“The Harris County EOC is considered the region’s command and communications hub,” added Emmett. “The building expansion makes HCOHSEM, as well as regional transportation management, more efficient,” added Emmett.

Houston TranStar is a partnership of four government agencies that provide leadership in transportation and emergency management in the Greater Houston area.  Partners include the Texas Department of Transportation, METRO, Harris County and the City of Houston.


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